Creating Sacred Spaces in our Schools

written by Noreen Leibson, Delet Faculty Leader

Creating makom kadosh (sacred space) in our schools is part of Jewish day school culture. But what exactly do we mean by makom kadosh? Makom in Hebrew means place and kadosh traditionally refers to holiness. We see this referenced in the Bible when the Israelites are instructed to build a place for God to dwell, a place for God’s holiness to settle among the people. How can we create classroom spaces that leave room for God? Spaces where students feel comfortable to explore their own spirituality and learning? 

At Delet, we have been exploring the notion that there are many ways to create makom kadosh. One student said that he intentionally sets up a sacred (holy) place for himself before going to bed through mediation and a song about the angels surrounding him. Middot, Jewish values, as well as tefilah, are also vehicles for creating sacred space. We explore such questions as: What impact do these practices have on the students and the school community? How do other rituals and values enhance the educational experience? What role does makom kadosh play in our lives and in the lives of our students, and why is it important?

As part of our exploration, Delet visited Mayyim Hayyim, the pluralstic mikveh and education center in Newton, MA. We learned about the vision and intention behind the mikveh’s creation and design, every detail of which contributes to a sense of makom kadosh. The vision of Mayyim Hayyim’s leaders of a safe, nurturing and sacred environment is integrated into every aspect of the building and its programs, from small details like the wave-shaped door handles to the many educational programs, carefully-trained personal mikveh attendants and the ample time given to each immersion. No one is rushed through the experience.

Our students had many responses to what they experienced and learned.

“The thing that most caught my attention at Mayyim Hayyim was the inclusiveness of the space. It was evident that the staff of the mikveh is genuinely interested in seeing to the comfort of anyone who wants to use it. I could also tell, from both the presentation and the layout of the space, that serious planning went into creating a Makom Kadosh there, a sacred and safe space not just theoretically but tangibly.”

“My visit to Mayyim Hayyim helped shine a light for me on how the mikveh can play such a pivotal part for both a community and an individual. Access for all denominations allows a community to be unified. The act of going to a mikveh and submerging into its waters can give individuals a place to search for spirituality and wholeness.”

Through vision and planning, Mayyim Hayyim has created a space that is welcoming and open to all who walk through its doors. As teachers, we want to create the same experience. We want our students to feel safe and comfortable so they can feel free to go into areas unknown and know that they can play with and explore new ideas and experience new insights and learning. A makom kadosh, a sacred space within the classroom and school, lends itself to being a place where we can all feel safe enough to jump off the cliff into the unknown.

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